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Real questions from industry end users on the use of VR in jobsite collaboration & project processes

In case you missed it, Construction Business Owner recently moderated a live webinar for the construction industry in collaboration with Resolve by InsiteVR and Autodesk—Collaborative VR: Today's Efficiency, Tomorrow's Resiliency. The webinar showcased how firms like Stantec and GLY Construction are using the combination of virtual reality (VR) and building information modeling (BIM) to collaborate more efficiently and productively with project owners, such as Microsoft. 

While the benefits of VR use in construction are tenfold in a normal jobsite environment, the global coronavirus pandemic has placed a new focus on methods of meeting and communicating project plans and changes in a safe and socially distanced format.

Tech tools like collaborative VR are no longer a nice-to-have, but rather, a must-have for firms' resiliency toolkits. In the webinar, attendees had the chance to hear from a panel of industry experts on collaborative VR and walk through a project in VR with the panel. 

 

 

The questions listed below came directly from the audience during the live event. Learn what the panel had to say about updates to hardware, how remote work is changing the VR experience for construction companies, changes to deliverables due to the increased use of tech for communication, what's next for VR in construction and more below. But first, meet the panel:

  • Adam Cisler, research and development manager at GLY Construction
  • Angel Say, chief executive officer and co-founder of InsiteVR
  • Josh Clark, BIM manager at Stantec
  • Salla Eckhardt, director, digital transformation at Microsoft
  • Josh Cheney, senior manager, strategic alliances at Autodesk

Question: Given the current remote-work practices and future apprehension with sharing devices, how are larger firms planning on handling increased VR use? What are your thoughts on rolling out more of a "personal" device that isn’t necessarily shared among teams?

Angel Say: With standalone headsets, we are already seeing the shift towards personalization of VR devices. Nobody wants to (or will want to) be sharing a headset in a conference room for sanitary reasons. The ease of use of standalone devices makes its very feasible to equip individual project members with these devices even while working from home.

Question: VR is still very new in the enterprise format. Applications like Resolve are a good way to get VR in the door, but how do you get buy-in and make VR an accepted tool to users who have never seen it and perhaps intimidated by it?

Salla Eckhardt: The way to successfully drive change into organization is to remove any obstacles in people’s way. It means that the transformation drivers need to listen to their customers and hear what they are telling. Begin by getting to know the person you want to introduce VR to and learn about what gets them excited.

Deep dive into what the bias is about VR technology and what caused the bias to begin with. Once you are both on the same page, lead with empathy. Go hard on the issue, but soft on the person. Leave the equipment where it is visible to people on everyday and let them come closer to it.

Let them pick it up and examine it without jumping in to sell. Once they are ready to discuss, make it a fun journey. Be inclusive and let everyone play! VR is not for the company IT team only.

 

Be brave and engage your company executive board as one of the testing groups; let your administrative team test it out; and invite the marketing team for a session, too. If you can get any group excited, others will follow.

Question: How have your actual design phase deliverables been able to change with the use of these immersive technologies?

Salla Eckhardt: VR technology enables the inclusive experience of the design phase deliverables, allowing any team to be in the virtual space with the original designer and have them explain the options. It is much easier to have discussions when you are experiencing the options together than try to mark things up on in 2D.

VR is unparalleled in communicating the scale and feeling of space. It creates emotions, which trigger feelings that generate questions. Another great impact from VR technologies is that there is more transparency into project deliverables which improves trust among project team. Without trust, you don’t have a successful team.

Question: It’s my understanding the Autodesk Construction Cloud integration program offers connections to hundreds of partners. Two questions: How would you describe the popularity of collaborative VR relative to other technologies? Have you seen greater interest/adoption since the pandemic began?

Josh Cheney: This is a really exciting area of opportunity, and COVID-19 has really accelerated the level of interest. Historically, customers struggled with aligning VR workflows to architecture, engineering and construction activities. Resolve has worked hand-in-hand with Autodesk to deliver an incredible value add, both for project collaboration and competitive differentiation.

Probably a fairly predictable response here, but bottom line, yes! We are seeing several advantages to VR preconstruction activities taking place in VR, including design review, trade coordination and means and methods preparation. 

 

The integration with Autodesk Construction Cloud has changed the conversation … now models can be managed in a common data environment, and Resolve can now tap a completely federated model.

Question: There are many mature packages in use today for 3D design. The only thing that seems to be missing to allow designers to effectively and efficiently use these packages with VR is an interface to allow them to use gestures and hand motions to use existing design software in a VR setting. Is there currently any effort to develop such interfaces to use with software like Revit, AutoCAD and others in conjunction with a VR headset?

Josh Cheney: Resolve + Autodesk are working on leveraging Forge to make sure stakeholders have access to up to date data and can review it efficiently. Autodesk is very excited about the opportunity to design virtually, but nothing is on the immediate roadmap.

Angel Say: There are no plans for design work in VR within Resolve at the moment. For earlier schematic prototyping VR might be good. But for full detailing, I think the keyboard shortcuts are more efficient than using your hands right now. Creating design software for VR would require rethinking design software from first principles, rather than trying to make it an extension of existing software, which was designed for desktops.

Question: The new Oculus VR Office tools are very new—and rather gimmicky. Do you see this improving and becoming the status quo in a few years? Additionally:

  • Are Autodesk and InsiteVR working to build laser scan or photogrammetry into the platforms?

  • How and what is the plan to show ‘real site’ data versus 3D model data?

  • Is this still a long way off, or are we on the cusp?

Angel Say: I do think we’re a few years off from VR offices being the “status quo”. However some of the recently announced office tools may prove to be valuable sooner—imagine being able to pull up a 2D pdf or site image using the office tools, while simultaneously being in a 3D model within Resolve.

Josh Cheney: We are on the cusp. Autodesk has integrated with a couple different solutions for point clouds, but size limitations continue to be an on-going reality.

 

Angel Say: From the Resolve side, site models is definitely something we hear a lot about, but there’s nothing for us to announce right now. The good news is that our engine designed for huge BIM files on Quest paves the way for handling huge data sets like point clouds on wireless VR devices.

Question: How can a field guy be in a room on-site and be able to overlay the BIM with data?

Angel Say: This is a better use case for augmented reality (AR). Right now AR and VR require different devices so this isn’t something you could do with the Resolve integration. 

Question: When do you think point clouds will be able to be shown in the standalone headsets?

Angel Say: From the Resolve side, site models is definitely something we hear a lot about but there’s nothing for us to announce right now. The good news is that our engine designed for huge BIM files on Quest paves the way for handling huge data sets like point clouds on wireless VR devices.

Question: Is there only one conversation at a time in the VR meeting setting?

Angel Say: There are two ways to interpret this question, so I’ll answer both. If you’re asking whether only one person can speak at a time: No, up to 20 participants can join a meeting and speak simultaneously. If you’re asking whether only one group of people can actively speak to each other versus breaking out into smaller discussions groups within a model: Yes, only one group can meet in the model and the audio is sent to all.

Question: What’s the largest meeting you’ve seen in Resolve (number of people)?

Angel Say: We’ve had up to 12 people in Resolve. Any more than that and it starts to turn into a virtual webinar, which isn’t very efficient for coordination.

Question: What’s next for collaborative VR?

Angel Say: I’m excited for people to start having their own VR devices and making collaborative VR meetings a larger part of their daily workflow. We’ve only had devices that anyone can truly use for about 12 months. As I see more owner facilities and maintenance teams use our collaborative VR software I’m also hearing a lot of excitement about being able to leverage digital twin live data to review building operations in VR once the building is handed over.

The same model you used to review during the design and construction phase can be used to train new operators, assess building health, etc. As we see access to sites remain limited and reality capture tools become easier to use I think VR will also be used to conduct virtual site visits to inspect site progress and review site issues remotely.

Question: Given the current remote-work practices and future apprehension with sharing devices, how are larger firms planning on handling increased VR use? What are your thoughts on rolling out more of a ‘personal’ device that isn’t necessarily shared among teams?

Adam Cisler: Covid-19 has definitely put a halt to sharing headsets or mass demonstrations. Thankfully, the drop-in cost for VR is now low enough where individual use appears to be the best option moving forward. Plus, not everyone on the team needs to have the VR headset to participate. This flexibility built into the software for cross-platform compatibility allows for adding headsets as needed as we scale usage.

Question: VR is still very new in the enterprise format. Applications like Resolve are a good way to get VR in the door, but how do you get buy-in and make VR an accepted tool to users who have never seen it and perhaps intimidated by it?

Adam Cisler: Through case studies and internal presentations and reviews, we are finding that awareness of the newer VR platforms is on the rise. New standalone VR headsets are easier to access and quick to set up, which makes acceptance at the individual level less challenging than 3 to 5 years ago.

Once you get past these initial hesitations and show that it is not as daunting as it seems, explore the use of VR at the project level. We are still in the education phase with VR at a project level, but the body of knowledge surrounding enterprise VR has grown over the years. We’re able to better communicate return on investment, benefits to the project, as well as how VR can assist in a team’s overall project management.

Running a wide range of employees through demos over the years has elevated the idea that anyone can participate, and the use of VR has a democratizing effect. There are still individual considerations along with realistic determination if VR can benefit specific roles versus others.

Question: How have your actual design phase deliverables been able to change with the use of these immersive technologies? As a general contractor—do you demand more from the design team; and are you willing to compensate for the shift in risk?

Adam Cisler: VR should be seen a supplement or enhancement to current processes, not as a tool used to pit disciplines against each other. There is a contractual element to 3D modeling and BIM which is often left out of the conversation surrounding VR.

Contractual agreements would significantly improve the speed and proliferation of VR adoption. However, due to the number of changes still occurring as VR technology matures, it still may be some time before any contractual language is included.